Colitis, or ulcerative colitis, is a disease that causes long-lasting, painful inflammation in areas of the digestive tract, including the small and large intestines.  To date, scientists have been puzzled as to the exact cause of colitis.  As research continues to investigate the causes of this painful and potentially life-threatening condition, medical professionals are recommending supplementing with probiotics as a viable treatment for the symptoms that accompany colitis.

Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative Colitis is classified as an inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, and is in the same class of chronic conditions as Crohn’s disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  Like other IBDs, colitis causes inflammation in the large intestine and colon; it is not uncommon for colitis to cause actual sores to form in afflicted areas.

Since colitis is a chronic condition, symptoms typically start as mild discomfort, progressing overtime to become debilitating and even life-threatening.  Common symptoms of colitis include[1]:

  • Rectal pain and bleeding
  • Abdominal pain and cramping; inability to pass feces
  • Blood and pus in diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Exhaustion

While most people with colitis suffer mild to moderate symptoms, a small percentage have symptoms so severe that they cause additional health issues, including eye, kidney and liver issues.

Causes and Risk Factors of Colitis

While a direct cause of colitis is not known, there are several theories as to its cause and risk factors.  A known commonality of people diagnosed with colitis is that they have compromised immune systems.  Since the digestive system and immune system are closely related, it is unknown if colitis causes the immune system issue, or vise versa.  Other theories include a close relationship to heredity, indicating a higher likelihood of colitis if a parent or sibling has the disease.

While definitive risk factors have not yet been determined, colitis sympoms first appear in men and women under the age of 30.

Using Probiotics for Treatment of Colitis Symptoms

Since the immune and digestive systems are closely related, and those with colitis appear to have compromised immune systems, scientist are now exploring the link between bacteria and colitis.  Specifically, doctors are experimenting with probiotics as a treatment for painful symptoms associated with colitis.  Probiotics are the “good” bacteria, estimated to number up to 85 billion, in the digestive system.

Doctors have found that optimal digestive health occurs when there is a ratio of 85:15 good to bad bacteria; colitis sufferers are now encouraged to supplement with probiotic sources as a way of ensuring favorable bacterial ratios are maintained.

Recent research demonstrates that probiotic supplementation has been effective in keeping disease causing “bad” bacteria from adhering to the lining of the digestive walls and preventing intestinal inflammation.  While further research into the effects of probiotics on colitis and other IBDs, the preliminary effects are encouraging.

Recommended Sources and Daily Allowance of Probiotics

Probiotics are found in a number of food and supplement sources, including yogurt, kefir and probiotic supplements.  While each source of probiotics contain a different amount of live active bacteria, nutritionists recommend consuming between 10 and 25 culture forming units, or cfus, each day.  This recommended amount is typically the bacteria found in a serving of yogurt or the recommended serving of a high quality probiotic supplement.



[1] “Ulcerative Colitis – National Digestive Diseases Information …” 2003. 14 Apr. 2013 <http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/colitis/>